Surveillance photo of fire fuels tensions between ranchers, Yakama Nation

Tensions between ranchers and the Yakama Nation over water rights have been heightened since a surveillance photo appeared on Facebook, showing a man in what appears to be a tribal law-enforcement uniform next to a fire at an irrigation structure.

GLENWOOD, Klickitat County — The photo has caused a big stir in this small ranching hamlet in southern Washington. Posted on Facebook and forwarded to law- enforcement, it shows a man in uniform standing next to a fire that is consuming a wooden water gate.

A surveillance camera grabbed the image Aug. 18 on Yakama Nation land. It was put there by a small irrigation company that sends water from tribal lands to ranches outside the reservation.

Company leaders had been concerned that someone this summer had been trying to sabotage the structure that funnels water from Cougar Creek, where they hold water rights, into a canal. So they set up the camera.

The camera took a series of photos of what appears to be a Yakama Nation official setting fire to the wooden irrigation gate without so much as taking the badge off his shirt, according to the irrigation company and a Yakima County sheriff’s detective who reviewed images. The man’s face is visible in a shot that an irrigation-company board member posted online to try to identify him.

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Other photos include images of the man stacking wood by the water-diversion gate and the blaze starting as he walks away, according to ranchers and the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, which plans to forward the case to the FBI.

“This is pretty troubling, and we will be making sure they are aware of this,” said Detective Sgt. Mike Russell, of the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office.

David Quesnel, prosecutor for Klickitat County, which includes Glenwood, said he also reviewed photos and was concerned by what he saw.

Neither law enforcement nor the tribe has publicly named the person in the photo posted on Facebook. Because the man’s face is shown in that photo and no charges have been filed, The Seattle Times is not publishing that image.

The fire occurred at the tail end of a difficult growing season for the ranchers who own Hell Roaring Irrigation. They reside in a remote southern Washington valley where there have been long-running tensions as the tribe challenged the boundaries set between reservation and state lands.

This summer, a water dispute flared as the Yakama…

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